Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Law We Love and the Law We Hate

As sinful human beings, there is Law that we love and there is Law that we hate.

We love the Law that does not directly apply to us, or that is easily applied to my life. Admonishments against homosexuality are easy for me... I'm not tempted that way. Be cheerful, show forth joy. Eh, I'm not a dour person, not so bad. And we want this preached, we want this proclaimed. We want this touted as the highest example of Christianity... because it most looks like us and what we are comfortable with.

But there is Law that we hate - that is the Law which we struggle with. Those places where, when the Law is proclaimed, we know that we don't measure up. This we despise. This we disdain. This we ignore. We write it off - we say the pastor preaching it is just being "mean" or "he's picking on people" or "he needs to get his own house in order."

Any excuse to ignore it, to stop up our ears and go "la la la la la la".

What Law pricks you? What law hits home, hits the mark, shows you your sin? Do not hate it - but rather meditate upon it. See your sinfulness, your wretchedness, your failures.

Then behold Christ Jesus, who knows those failures more than you, who knows them because He gladly and willingly bore them to the Cross so that you are forgiven in Him.

Holiness is Not Defined by Living

Holiness is not defined by living, but by receiving.

Too often in America, we equate holiness with action and living. Live in a holy fashion - do X because X is a holy thing. Be ye holy -- so get to it.

What we neglect or ignore in this whole approach (that we've picked up from our Protestant and Methodist friends) is that holiness is not defined by what I do or my actions, but by what God declares to be holy.

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

Being made holy, receiving holiness from God, being called into the holy nation is not defined by my actions - but it is something I have received in mercy.

Do we forget that all those things listed in the explanation to the first article of the Creed are holy? My marriage is holy - not because I or my wife are such good spouses, but because of all people in the world, God set apart my wife for me and me for my wife -- he has made our marriage holy.

My whole life and being He has made holy, for He has called me out of darkness and set me aside from the world to be His holy servant. I happen to be a pastor... but it's not being a pastor that makes me holy. My wife is a nurse -- she is a holy nurse, for God has given her the talents she has and has put her to use.

The food on my table - it is holy. It has been set apart by God that I might recieve it with thanksgiving. Otherwise, how would I dare pray before eating -- do we pray over and bless that which is not holy? May it never be!

When we start think about holiness in terms of what we do - our specific actions, when we take an "I have done X volunteerism that I didn't need to do (see, that was right and holy)" approach, we neglect what true holiness is.

God has set us apart for holiness.

Now, does this manifest itself in our lives. Most surely! But I do not make my actions holy (or holier) because *I* add anything to them. I am holy in Christ Jesus, and that will spill out in me. And when I see that I have been treating the things that God has called Holy less than holy... if I disdain my wife, or my vocation, or my own body... then I need to repent of my sin. Not so that I will be holy - but because God has called and declared me to be holy - and I need always to remember and be focused on His love for me in Christ Jesus and remember who I truly am in Him. God's own forgiven and holy child.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Goverment and Immoral Law

So, New York has passed a law legalizing Gay Marriage.

Many opponents of Gay Marriage are quite upset, and from a political point of view, they should be. New York is a big state... and more importantly, this was an act of the Legislative branch, not merely a court decision. Americans are used to appealing court decisions, to appealing court rulings -- but as part of our political process, we are somewhat used to conceding defeat after a vote is lost. We get practice on it every 2, every 4 years.

If I had to guess (and this is me looking at politics), Gay marriage is going to be standard or at least available for half the US population is probably less than a decade -- even if nothing is done to legalize it on the federal level.

So, what does this mean? Do we need to pull out our Billy Joel albums and destroy anything that has "New York State of Mind" on it? Do we need to cancel our trip to go see Lady Liberty? Do we need to mercilessly taunt the Mets and Yankees? No (well, the third is yes, but that has nothing to do with this law).

Yes, government is a blessing. Yes, governments do pass immoral law.

It happens all the time.

I'm torn on this. I wonder if this isn't Eric the political thinker speaking, or Eric the theologian. Politically speaking, I'm a libertarian -- I don't care *what* is legal as long as my rights are protected and safe guarded. That's sort of the point and price of a free society - I don't tell you how to swing your fist, you don't tell me how to swing mine, and as long as we aren't messing with each other - great.

Thus, the relaxing of laws, or the abolition of vice laws, from a political point of view, just don't bother me. I'm not going to be swayed by arguments on secondary or tertiary effects (i.e. if we legalize X, then y will happen, and then z - and you won't like Z). There's unintended consequences for all law - and frankly, I don't like some of the unintended consequences of some of the current vice laws we have.

However - the question I have is this - this is a political argument. Does it hold water theologicalically?

Theologically speaking, gay marriage, along with all homosexual activities, is immoral. I cannot condone anyone availing themselves of it. Moreover, I do see the theological danger in giving legal sanction to something that is immoral (there is a difference between the government not passing a law against X on the one hand and validating with recognition an act on the other). We will have to be more precise and take more care in teaching our own about what marriage truly is.

And its these things that lead me not to be too worried even from a theological perspective.

Our attitude towards the government shouldn't change, even with bad Law. Paul's great section on obeying the authorities is found in Roman - is written to people who less then a few years later would be being slaughtered by the Emperor they are to pray for. In fact, Paul write so many of his letters while in chains, while suffering under unjust laws - yet still, the call to respect and pray for our leaders goes forth, and if necessary, to receive the full punishment of their unjust judgments, even if it means death. And yet, still to pray for them.

So the situation remains the same. We are civilly obedient (or if something comes us that to obey the law means we violate God's Command, we take the civil punishment that is coming to us -- going to jail because you knowingly broke a law isn't really "disobedience" -- it's showing that you understand the law and are willing to abide by its terms and punishments for violating it according to your conscience in order to make a point -- that's actually using a law for rhetorical effect in political and legal debate). We focus upon God's Word. We pray for our leaders.

And we ought to remember, even now, that God works all things for the good of His Church. Even when the Government passes immoral law.

We have the phrase - the Church was watered with the blood of the martyrs. The Roman Emperors intended it for evil, but God used it for good.

How will God use the passing of Gay Marriage for good? Because now, for the first time in a long, long while, there is a renewed focus on what marriage is, what it is for. We aren't just going to be going through the motions to try and fit some picture of the American dream - house, white picket fence, and two kids, a boy and a girl. We will have to point out, over and against not only what society says, but what the government says, what marriage truly is --> God placing a man and a woman together to that they might mutually care and support each other and raise any children which God provides for them (be it by birth or which God provides by adoption).

Not an expression of love - that's not the point of marriage. Not an expression of will. Not a chance to get out of mom and dad's place by hook or by crook. Mutual love and support, a safe place to exercise passion, and a place for the raising of children.

As Christians, we are in the world, but not of the world.

In America, we can forget this, because even we too buy into the Finney-Arminean idea that we are a "Christian Nation" -- instead we must listen to our Lord. His Kingdom is not of this world. My true citizenship is not this country -- this country is a wonderful blessing, but it's only temporary like all other blessings -- it too shall pass.

Its blessings shall pass, and its immoral and foolish law shall pass.

I'm not going to get too worked up about an immoral law that just means I have to teach more clearly instead of letting the government teach what marriage is. And even if the law is changed - even if in 20 years I lose the right to officiate at weddings because I will not solemize gay marriages (I don't think that is coming, but let's throw out work case scenarios)... oh well.

And take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife - those these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.

The government passing a bad, immoral law is sad. But we aren't even approaching a place where we'd need the bold stand of "A Mighty Fortress". As such, I'll not worry too much and just keep doing what I have been called to do -- point to the Word of God and Christ Jesus. God be merciful to this world, and keep us steadfast in Thy Word.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Words from Luther

(From a Luther sermon on Luke 16:19-31) It would be a great error to estimate God’s goodness and grace only by your lot here on earth. It is true, of course, that money and possessions, a sound body, and the like are God’s gifts and blessings. But these blessings do not last forever, for in the end we must leave behind money and possessions and everything we have. Moreover, there is the additional misfortune that unless we take special care to walk in the fear of God and pay close attention to His Word, the blessing of God actually gives occasion for many sins because of our sinful nature…. However, the true, supreme, and best blessing, in which one can and should really and truly sense the goodness of God, is not temporal possessions but the eternal blessing that God has called us to His holy Gospel. In this Gospel we hear and learn that God would be gracious to us for the sake of His Son, would forgive sin and eternally save us and graciously protect us in this life against the tyranny of the devil and the world. To him who properly appreciates this blessing everything else is a trifle, even though he lacks temporal blessing, is poor, sick, despised, unfortunate, and burdened with all sorts of adversities.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Long Day

I have had a long day. Started to work before the Sun rose. Didn't get back into the house until after the Sun set. Sermons worked upon and a hospital and a couple of waiting rooms visited and classes taught and 150 miles driven and two fast food meals on the go scarfed down.

But I tell you what -- a long day of actually doing Word and Sacrament ministry beats the tar out of a short day of busy/paper-work any day of the week.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How Heresy and Error happens

This blog has shown an example of how error and heresy happens in the Church.

In a blog post on preaching I had asked rhetorically "What do you think is more important than preaching the Cross?"

The purpose of this statement was to contradict and overturn those who don't preach Christ.

In the comments there was this:

"What do you think is more important than the Cross?"

The resurrection, maybe?

Now, this comment has missed the point. He has set Good Friday and Easter against each other. You can't do this - they are tied, they connected.

However, this comment got my goat. I heard this and I thought of all the happy, clappy preachers who don't want to talk about icky death -- so I responded, asserting that the Cross is more important.

From a logical order, you can argue that the Cross must precede the Resurrection - that you cannot rightly preach the Resurrection without preaching the Crucifixion. I'd contend this is why Paul tends to speak in terms of knowing nothing but Christ and Him Crucified -- the Risen Lord *is* the Crucified Lord.

But in saying that the Crucifixion is more important - instead of speaking the truth accurately, I instead became more worried about responding to potential error.

And spoke wrongly myself.

Every error has its equal and opposite error, generally dividing the Word of God and setting it against itself. And it comes with the best of intentions, with zeal, with vim and vigor. And that zeal makes us less than careful in our word choice, or makes us emphasize something to the diminishment of another truth.

I got caught up trying to protect the Crucifixion.

It doesn't need to be protected - rather it simply needs to be proclaimed with the whole Christian truth.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Difference between "to" and "on"

It is vitally important to consider the difference between "to" and "on". For example, we are all aware of the following:

"Peace on earth, goodwill to men".

But then there is the following:

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." - Matthew 10:34

Are these contradictory? No, not at all. This plays off of that famous old phrase - Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world. There is peace on earth - but not peace to this fallen place. Indeed, the fallen world will never stop fighting the Gospel - and thus between Christians and the world there will always be struggle. We will all preach the Law, and the world will always reject it. We will preach the Gospel, and the world will always disdain it.

The difference between to and on. A vital difference that describes our whole lives.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday - in Lahoma

Trinity Sunday – John 3:1-17 – June 19th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Who are you? That is the question that I would ask of you this day. Who are you? What is the key thing that defines, that shapes you, that makes you who you are? There are many ways we might answer. I myself could say that I am a husband, a father, a pastor, a son, an OU graduate. These are all true, but they and answers like them are not the vital, the most important thing. No, the highest, the most important thing for both you and I is this. We are those who have been baptized in the Name of the Triune God, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is there, in our baptism, that we are defined. It’s not that we chose or define ourselves, but God calls us children of God, God gives us life everlasting and forgiveness, God pulls us out of the darkness of this fallen world and brings us into His marvelous light, even forever more. Everything else pales in comparison to the truth that you have been baptized into the Triune God – male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, young or old, rich or poor – they all pale in comparison to the fact that you have been joined to God Almighty in the gift of Holy Baptism. That is why, on this Trinity Sunday, the day where we contemplate the reality that God is Triune, Father, Son, and Spirit, that our Gospel lesson is John 3. This text points us to the truth that we know who Christ Jesus is, that we understand the Father’s love, that we have received the Father’s love all by the washing of water and the Spirit.

To begin our text, a fellow by the name of Nicodemus approaches Christ. Now, I will warn you, I will be a bit harsh concerning Nicodemus, because in this text, he doesn’t understand. However, by all accounts, he does after the resurrection, in fact, tradition holds that he becomes a leader in the early church. But right here, in this text – he doesn’t get it yet. Let us note what happens: “This man [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.’” It sounds good at first blush, but in reality, it just shows that Nicodemus doesn’t understand. All he thinks of Jesus is that Jesus is a good teacher, a wise Man, someone God likes. And moreover, while Nicodemus will admit that Jesus is a good teacher, he’s a bit ashamed of this fact. He comes at night – Nicodemus doesn’t praise Jesus in the daylight, when people are around – he comes at night. He doesn’t want to be labeled, doesn’t want to be identified as one of those Christ-followers. Nicodemus doesn’t understand who Jesus is, and he is embarrassed by the grudging respect he gives to Jesus.

Is this not just the attitude of the fallen world? Eh, sure, Jesus was a good teacher, but that’s it. Eh, Christ was okay – but those Christians, those who believe that He is something more than a mere teacher… oh, forget that! The world will pay our Lord a token of respect – Islam will call Him a prophet, a Buddhist will say He a wise teacher, an atheist will cite the Golden Rule – but that’s it.

Our Lord explains why. “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Unless you have been born again – unless you have been given the gift of faith, unless God Himself has worked in you faith and given You His Own Spirit – you won’t rightly see Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Apart from God we are spiritually dead, and the dead don’t see anything. Unless God opens your eyes, gives you New life in Him – doesn’t make sense. As proof of that, listen to Nicodemus’ reply. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Nicodemus has no clue. None, whatsoever. His best guess is just plain icky at best. His focus is just on physical, mundane, worldly things.

Then Jesus answers him, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” And here Jesus lays out what is coming, what He is going to give to His Church in the gift of Baptism. When you were baptized, when you were born of Water and the Spirit, you were given new life, you were declared to be no longer simply part of this fallen world, but attached to God. Indeed, the Holy Spirit publicly declared that you would be His temple. And because of this, because the Holy Spirit, by the power of the Word of God, attached to the water of Holy Baptism, you now see Christ Jesus, you now know His salvation, and you have entered into relationship and communion and fellowship with Him – you have entered the Kingdom of God, the power and righteous rule of God, because you have been joined to Christ Jesus.

Now, can one come to faith apart from Baptism? Sure – the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, whether it is preached or whether it is tied to water in Baptism. That “he cannot enter the kingdom of God” isn’t speaking about permission, but ability – it means “is not able, does not have the power to enter the kingdom of God.” Apart from the Holy Spirit, who both works faith in Christ and brings us to the font – we simply will not be able to know Christ or His salvation. This is catechism lesson stuff – I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel… and so on. But the point that our Lord is making here is that in His Church, this is how things will work. God will bring His own to the waters of Holy Baptism, and there the Name of the Triune God will be placed upon us, and we will be united to Christ and all that is His, the Holy Spirit will dwell in us and give us faith in Christ, and thus we are joined to Christ Jesus who is the Way to the Father, the Truth of God, and is Life Himself. Baptism gives faith, and when faith is given by the Word, that faith always leads directly to baptism – when the Spirit opens the eyes of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts, he asks to be baptized. The Gospel is preached at Pentecost, people are baptized. A small child is born of the flesh – and his parents see that He is baptized and born of the Spirit as well.

And Jesus points out something neat in His next few sentences. In Greek – Spirit and wind are the exact same word. So, listen: “The wind [or Spirit] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Apart from faith, apart from the working of the Holy Spirit, the things of the Christian faith make no sense. People might see things, but they won’t understand. But what we confess is this – the Holy Spirit works faith in people by the Word of God, when and where He wills, and He has promised to be with us and establish His own relationship with us in Holy Baptism. And of course, in our text, Nicodemus doesn’t get this yet – “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’” How? I don’t get it. I don’t understand. Well, of course you can’t understand these things apart from the Holy Spirit. As of yet, Nicodemus doesn’t believe, doesn’t really know who Jesus is, and so it all makes no sense. And then our Lord proclaims who He is. He is the One who bears witness to the Father – for He is the One who has come down from heaven for our salvation. He is the One who will be lifted up upon the Cross, so that whoever believes in Him would have eternal life and be saved from Sin.

And then we get the famous verse we all know. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” And this is the verse the world will never understand. If you want to know God’s love, if you want to know how God loves and cares for the world – you don’t look to your pocket book. Sometimes it’s full – sometimes not so full. That changes. You don’t look to your feelings or emotions. Sometimes you are up, and sometimes you are down. They change. You don’t look to the wonders of the world, because sometimes that prairie that looks so beautiful starts to look dark and ugly and violent as the storm comes sweeping in. The world changes. Everything changes in this fallen place, except for one thing. God’s love for you, and how you know, how you can be certain that God loves you. Christ Jesus had died upon the Cross. This is fact. This does not change. He is Christ the Crucified, who went to the Cross to pay for the sins of the world.

And do you know what? The world may not see this, the world may not understand God’s love for them – the very people who hate and revile Christ Jesus do not understand His love for them. But you, dear friends, you are baptized. You have been claimed by God, God Himself has washed you in water and the Spirit, and your eyes have been opened, your mind has been opened, you have been given the precious gift of faith so that you might realize and know and trust in the wonder and mystery of all ages. Christ Jesus died for you. He rose for you. He shed His blood for you. For God so loved you, that He baptized you and declared you to be His own precious son, His own daughter, so that you would believe in Christ Jesus, so that the Holy Spirit would dwell within you, constantly call you here to this place to be in the Word, to receive Christ and His forgiveness, all so that you might share in the life everlasting, the life of the world to come.

The cross is the proof that God loves the world. Your baptism is the proof that God loves you, and the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit given in Baptism is what gives you life and makes you to know this truth, what brings the Cross to you. The most important thing in your life is the fact that you are baptized – and this shapes everything in your life. Now you strive to do good works, not because God is angry and mean, but because you are His forgiven child and that’s just what happens, what you do. You resist sin and temptation, because God has claimed you as His own dwelling place, and He doesn’t lead you into temptation. You stand boldly in this world, and when you sin in your frailness and weakness, you confess your sins, you receive forgiveness, you come to the Altar and receive Christ’s Body and Blood – because the God who delivered you from Evil at your Baptism delights in delivering you and will forgive and once again create in you a free and clean Spirit, give you His Holy Spirit. This is His promise to you, sign, sealed, and delivered in the waters of Holy Baptism, in which you were joined to the Triune God. Thus, all of our lives, wherever we go, are lived in Confidence in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Which is more important?

In an Issues Etc. Blog of the Week Winning post below a fellow comments as follows:

"What do you think is more important than the Cross?"

The resurrection, maybe?

I responded there, but I thought I would write a bit more here. This is a common theme that comes up today - that we shouldn't focus so much on the Cross and Good Friday (what a downer!) - after all the big, big thing is Easter!

Well... here's the thing. What does Paul focus on? The Cross. For God shows His love for us in this; that while we were yet sinners Christ... *died* for us. Paul is determined to know nothing among us but Christ and Him... *Crucified*.

Even John - For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son - gave... where... how? Gave Him over to death -- that's a Crucifixion reference. Or when Jesus shows Himself even after the resurrection, what does He do? He points to His hands, His side - to the marks of His Crucifixion.

The Crucifixion is more important than can never be diminished to simply talk about the resurrection - the resurrection rests upon the Crucifixion. Without the Crucifixion, there can be no resurrection. The Crucifixion is what lets the Resurrection, which is indeed a great benefit to us, happen.

Or to think about it this way:

The Crucifixion is the battle.
The Resurrection is the victory parade.

I love the victory parade. The victory parade is a great and good thing - and it's going to go on forever. But the battle that brings victory is more important than thehas to come before the celebration and demonstration of that victory.

No, Really, the Gospel Does Offend

One of the things that we in America have forgotten, one of the things we ignore whenever we sip the kool-aid of American style theology of Glory where there will be nothing but bigger numbers and grow and joy and blah blah blah is this simple truth.

The Gospel offends. No, really, it does.

A friend of mine posted on her facebook page the following Chesterton quote: "It has been proved a hundred times over that if you really wish to enrage people and make them angry, even unto death, the right way to do it is to tell them that they are all the sons of God."

Discussion has followed... and did her non-beleiving friends come out in force. And I engaged in discussion - and while it was pointing out things they didn't understand about Christianity it was okay (no, the divinity of Christ was confessed well before Rome legalized Christianity - no, Constantine didn't proscribe a canon in which he added magic to appeal to pagans, etc)- until I pointed out that Christianity wasn't a moral system - you can't describe Christianity (as they had) without a focus on the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Then, there was anger.

im just so sick of this lovey dovey view of god you all have. who put the tree in the garden? who created hell? who didnt have the foresite to see what would happen.

i didnt ask for his death or sacrafice. i didnt ask for any of it and now im bound to him for all eternity? i am guilty in the womb and you call that love?!

adam and eve make a simple act of disobedience and nothing more and because of that... all man kind is cursed!? give me a break!? jesus loves me so much that if i dont give him his due attention i get to burn in hell for all time. how wonderful!

what does it cost god or jesus if i dont worship him? why does he care? and care so much that he would burn he for all eternity?

does the punishment fit the crime?

Now, I did respond -- the purpose of this post isn't to republish a facebook conversation - but note this. Do you see the anger? Do you hear the offense that this person has taken? And he didn't take it at moralism or anything like that - he didn't take it at the wise and logical teacher Jesus - he took it where?

"I didnt ask for his death or sacrafice"

That's where the rubber hit the road.

God offers life - but we are a people in love with death. We are in love with our selfishness, our ego, the desire to say, "No, I'll do it myself" even to our own harm and isolation. Sinful man hates the love of God - the Gospel offends.

And if we are to speak the Gospel of Christ, we will be reviled, we will be mocked, we will be hated -- because we will be speaking to people who know nothing but how to revile, mock, and hate - who know only the selfish shadows of all that is good.

But we speak. Mayhaps the Spirit will work faith - He has done it before, and God grant that He does it again. But that isn't our concern. We speak the Gospel that offends -- perhaps it will offend unto life.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Law Sours Everything

So, this morning I woke up at 6 am. Nice and early on my day off. I'm a morning person, and even though I did roll over and doze until my wife got home, I did have a simple thought before I drifted off to sleep.

One of the great blessings of our life is simply this - waking up. Look, God has given me another day. I had laid myself down to sleep, and I have in fact not died before I wake. And in my case, as I'm fairly healthy and not at the twilight of my life, my day is a day of positive opportunity.

And yet, for how many people who are otherwise healthy, is waking up an odious thing? Is it dreaded? There are times it is rough for me even, the morning person -- I don't want to get up.

And why?

The Law.

I don't want to *have* to get up. I don't want to *have* to do the things I do. I wake up and the Law is on my mind - I crack open my eyes and I think about obligations, I think about all the running around, I think about the fact that when I set foot on the floor it's going to be 14, 15 hours of running around before I get to kick my feet back up.

And then, I can hate the morning. Because I view things in terms of the Law, in terms of what I have to do.

Contrast this with the realities of life. I am alive. I have a comfortable bed in a comfortable house in which I am sheltered and given rest (I'd say plenty of rest, although young Victor may put the Kabosh on that when he is born). I have comfortable employment doing tasks that I am well suited for and by-in-large enjoy (any job can be frustrating, but being a Pastor probably is never going to show up on "Dirty Jobs"). My family is doing well. First Article stuff - all in line and in fact much more than I need or deserve.

And of course, I am redeemed, I know my Savior, I am the dwelling place of the Spirit, I understand my place in the world, for I know that I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that I get to walk in... and when my feet hit the ground I'll be walking in those good works (whether it's my busy I know it's going to nasty day or whether it's my day off - God's got good in store for me through what is done in my life).

All around is nothing but blessing and goodness and mercy and love to me.

But if I think in terms of the Law, if I view life through the lens of Law, must, obligation... everything falls apart. The Law threatens to take this life where I have been blessed beyond all understanding, especially in this fallen, nasty world where nothing but horrid crap should happen to me, blessed amid the stench of fallen creation by a God who is so incredibly loving to me - the Law threatens and tells me to hate this.... and what is my tempted reaction.

Meh... I don't want to wake up.

The Law is one evil, cruel and harsh master. Quit looking at or focusing on or worrying about what you have to do - it's killing you. Rather, look to Christ, see all that He has given you, all that He gives you, and put those feet on the ground knowing that you are in His care all this day.

Hmmmm... I think Luther Morning's prayer sort of deals with this...

For into Your hands I commend my body and soul... that's a good, Gospel-ly way to start and see your day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thoughts on Comments on Preaching

In my previous post there were two poignant comments about preaching, and I'd like to give them each a little bit more thought and consideration.

"Look at the Word. If you look at the Word, you'll preach. If you don't, you'll tell stories and illustrations."

Now, this actually is a rather profound statement. One of the questions, the things that revolve around the background of preaching theory is the use of story and the like. How do I use illustrations? How can I find some good ones? And one of the underlying ideas behind illustrations is the idea that they are needed to keep the listener's interest.

Think about that for a second. This Scripture stuff we are talking about is too boring - we need a good story to make it interesting.

Do you see how that is an attitude and an idea that is totally, totally dismissive of the Word and its efficacy?

Our preaching is not to be an attempt to improve upon the Word - it is to be proclamation of the Word of God. Might we use story and illustration in that - sure, but only as a means of explanation or example. Our illustrations ought never be the point. The point must always be the Word.

In High School English, I was taught the S-E-E format of paragraph construction. Statement, Example, Explanation. And I think this is a very good way to shape an informative paragraph. Let me give an example:

(Statement) We in the Church know that Christ Jesus desires all sorts of people to be saved. (Example) Jesus says, "make disciples of all nations." (Explanation) The Church isn't limited to just you or I, isn't isn't just our own Holy Club, but God will bring in people from all nations. God isn't like some 50s Segregationist who's going to tell you to back away from the streams of living water if your skin's the wrong color - all nations - He has won salvation for all nations.

Illustrations and imagery can make for a good explanation, a good emphasis -- but it can never be the statement, the focus. And the center of all things needs to be the Word - the example of anything we say needs to be backed up by the Word.

So consider your own preaching -- how much of your preaching is the Word of God? If more of it is your own great stories or ideas... not a good sign.

"Gentlemen, unless you preach the atonement, you haven't preached."

And the real icing on the cake is this - what is the point of the Word of God? It is always, Old Testament or New, to point us to the death of Christ Jesus to win salvation. Always. If you aren't pointing to this, what's the point of your sermon?

Seriously - if you aren't going to preach Christ and Him Crucified, why are you wasting my time? What do you think is more important than the Cross?

It's just something to think about, to ponder. How much Word is in my sermon. How much of the sermon points to the cross. If I don't see much Word, if I don't see much Cross... I'm not really preaching, am I?

Wisdom from a Certain Prof

Wisdom from a Certain Professor who shall remain nameless.... teaching a class on Christology.

"If you preach that John 3:16 is the Gospel in a nutshell, I'll be at the back of the Church with a sling shot aiming peanuts and walnuts at you."

"The Cross is no more a sign of the resurrection than an electric chair is a sign of hope, even if it is empty."

"Once you've had to live through 'God is dead' this Postmodern stuff is weak."

"Bach could put Soli Deo Gloria at the end of his works. I couldn't. Why blame God for your mistakes?"

"The present state of liturgics in the LCMS today is like a teenaged girl who has just discovered mascara."

"If the finite cannot bear the infinite why did the infinite go through the trouble of creating the finite, if He hates it so much?"

"These Liturgical Gurus should be taken out and shot. They are legalists and pietists."

"Is there anyway we can put people who say mass on fast forward?"

"I hate those guys in the choir. All they are are slowed down Charismatics. It's beautiful, but you don't know what it means."

"I know you are against kneeling in the Church because the Catholics do it, but you should get used to it. You'll be doing it forever."

"Look at the Word. If you look at the Word, you'll preach. If you don't, you'll tell stories and illustrations."

"As soon as you 'believe' in the Son of God like the Calvinists do, you make the crucifixion an adiaphora."

"Gentlemen, unless you preach the atonement, you haven't preached."

Monday, June 13, 2011

... but it will grow the Church

"... but it will grow the Church."

I cringe whenever "it will grow the Church" is the argument and rationale for why we should or shouldn't do something.

I've spent 25 years hearing this line of argumentation about Contemporary Worship. No thought as to whether it is good, right, or proper. Just demographics - people like this, so let's do this, let's manipulate the demographics, that will grow the Church.

We are never, never called to "grow the Church" - we are called to remain faithful. The Holy Spirit will grow the Church when and where He wills. No plan, no change, no rule of ours will grow the Church.

Our actions, our thoughts, our focus should not be placed upon numbers -- you know what happens when people get worried about numbers in the Old Testament? God strikes them dead. Or God sends most of the soldiers home. Or God tells Elijah to quit worrying about numbers and just remain faithful.

Quit trying to figure out how to grow the Church. Quit trying to figure out how you can guilt, entice, trick, tease, or make people show up. You can't. This is the work of the Spirit. He works faith when and where He wills via the preaching of the Gospel. Let Him be in charge.

What a Man is

Sinful man is a factory for excuses.

Seriously - think about this as you enter your week. How many just utterly dumb excuses and false justifications will you hear this week? Will you make this week? It's like we are an assembly line for cheap excuses - one by one they roll off of our tongue.

And they are never really true.

I'm too busy --> really, I just don't want to.
I had too much going on --> I just don't want to (or possibly, I forgot)
I forgot --> I buried you in the deepest recesses of my mind so you wouldn't bother me again.
I couldn't get a hold of you --> I really hope your phone doesn't have caller ID so you notice that I haven't called in over a week.

I suppose we could go on - that could be entertaining. Leave your favorite excuses (and their real meanings) in the comments if you like. But I think we get the picture. We make excuses. We try to self-justify.

That's what sinful man is. He makes excuses. He fails to act rightly and then talks about it. So, then, what is the opposite? What does the New Man look like?

The New Man is a quiet doer of good.

Seriously, isn't that what the New Man does. Goes about his business and doesn't draw attention to himself. No showy displays of "see how great I am, see how much I give." Is much more quick to listen than to spout of something. Does what needs to be done... and then is off to something else.

The more a man talks about his actions, the worse they are.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost Sermon (Both Alva and Lahoma

Pentecost Sunday – June 12th, 2011 – Acts 2

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
The last 4 or 5 weeks or so have all been leading up, preparing us for this week. The time spent in John’s Gospel, hearing our Lord in the Upper Room, promising the Apostles the Spirit were all leading, all driving to our Lesson from Acts 2 today – the day of Pentecost, the birth of the New Testament Church, that Church which you and I are a part of, that Church which not even hell itself can prevail against. And so, when we consider Pentecost Sunday, we see and learn how our Lord shapes and grows His Church, even to this day – so this morning, let us ponder what it is that our Lord does on Pentecost, and how that is done now in our midsts.

First things first – we see and learn that God has an impeccable sense of timing. It has been 50 days since Jesus rose – 7 weeks. It’s been 10 days since the Ascension – and what of the Apostles. They had been left to hang on out in Jerusalem. Well, why would God just have them hang out – why not just dive in and get to things right away? Because God is patient and does things at the proper time. God waits for Pentecost. Now, one of the things that we end up saying that isn’t quite accurate is that we will refer to Acts 2 as “that first Pentecost.” It’s not – it’s not the first Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish festival – Shavout – the festival of weeks, one of the major holidays – 50 days after the Passover. And all good Jewish men were required to go to the temple and bring the first fruits of the year, the barley harvest, in as an offering. This is why we hear from Acts, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” It was a day of a major festival, so you have people from all over the Roman Empire and even beyond who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate this year’s Shavout in Jerusalem at the temple.

So, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles, and they preach in the temple, who hears it? Not just the local folks – but folks from all over the world, who are then going to go and return to their homes. This is fantastic timing by the God. And while the disciples might have been sitting around bored wondering, “come on God, get on with it already” – when God acts, it is the right and proper time. This is something we need to remember as well. God is the Lord of the Church, and it is He who establishes the harvest. He is the One who grows His Church, and He acts with wisdom and love for His Church. We are not in control – God is. This can be a very hard truth for us to accept as Americans. As Americans we like to be in control – we’ll just work hard and then we’ll be whatever we want to be – we can be self-made men. There are no self-made Churches – this congregation is not shaped by our own wisdom, by how suave and entertaining the pastor is, or any of that. No, the Church grows by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, at work here in our midst, bringing people faith, growing us in the knowledge of God, and establishing in us ever more love and devotion and trust in God Almighty and in Christ Jesus.

And this leads us to the second, big lesson of Pentecost. We often think of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit’s big day – look, here’s the Holy Spirit, here is power and might and speaking in tongues. Catch the Spirit – woo-hoo! Is that the point of this day… that we become some type of holy cheerleaders – We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you? Yeah! Go team Jesus! Isn’t this the way a lot of people take this day? Our Pentecostal friends take for themselves the term “Pentecostal” because they are focused on the Spirit, because they claim that they can speak in tongues, all brought on by the Holy Spirit – after all, isn’t that the point of Pentecost? Nope. Not at all. And we can miss it because our lectionary, our system of readings cuts us off right when it starts to get good. It’s like we’re on a roller coaster and we get to the top of the first hill and then… we’ll just stop here. The good stuff is what comes next.

What happens is you have all this build up – the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles, and they start speaking – and note something too – “And at the sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?’” And then 15 languages are rattled off. First of all, Pentecost has nothing to do with speaking in a babble that people can’t understand – it has everything to do about speaking and God miraculously making other people understand. When Peter speaks – everyone hears him in his own native tongue. That’s the wonder – everyone understands him crystal clearly. Tongues are to be about understanding and hearing – this is what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14 – “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.” If no one understands you – shut your trap. The point is never “oooOOOooo, I can speak in tongues” but rather proclamation. And what does Peter proclaim?

Well, in our text, we see Him stand up, and He explains from the Scriptures that this is what Joel told us all would happen – and then we cut off the reading. Right at the hill, ready to dive in, and we stop. Listen now to how Peter drives right on in in the next verses. This is Acts 2:22-24. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” The point of Pentecost is this – that Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation is proclaimed in the various tongues of the world.

You see – the Holy Spirit has a very simple job. He points to Christ. He proclaims Christ. He opens our eyes, opens our minds, so that we understand the Word of God which proclaims Christ Jesus to be our Savior from sin. John 14 – “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Or John 7 – Jesus says, “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive…” The Spirit brings the Word to us, and then establishes and grows and protects faith in Christ Jesus and His salvation. The Spirit focuses us upon Christ. The Spirit is why when we hear God’s Word we are pointed to Christ, why and how we understand all this Church stuff really being about Christ and His love for us. The Spirit is why Christ Jesus and Him Crucified has remained the heart and center of all that we are and hear in the Church. The Holy Spirit keeps us in Christ Jesus so that we believe and have life in His Name.

The special tie for you in this is your Baptism. When Peter finishes his sermon, the people say, “Now what?” And Peter’s response, Acts 2:38-39, is as follows: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Baptism gives the forgiveness of sin and it gives the Holy Spirit. When you were baptized in Christ’s Name, in the Name of the Triune God, your sin was forgiven. More than just that – the Holy Spirit entered in to you, took you up as His own dwelling place. Again, we cannot emphasize enough that Baptism is God’s Work, it is something that God does upon you, that God gives to you. Peter’s not telling these people to jump through hoops for God. Be baptized… that’s passive, that’s receptive. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again – passive, receptive. Baptism isn’t what we do for God, it’s a gift wherein God works upon us. Even… our children, for this promise is for you and for your children. All about what God does – because everything in the Church is ultimately about what God does – the God who loves you, becomes man for you, goes to the Cross and suffers and dies for you.

There is another spirit at work in this age, the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of Satan. And how do you recognize Satan at work? Not by horns and a pitchfork, but by this. False and lying spirits will by hook or by crook try to distract you from Christ Jesus. This is what John says in his first Epistle, chapter 4 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming and now is in the world already.” How do you know? What do they say about Jesus? Do they confess that Jesus has come, that He is true man and true God, that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – is their focus upon Christ and Him crucified? If not, don’t listen to them. Is their focus upon what Christ Jesus has done for you… or what you need to do for God (which generally involves you obeying them and giving them stuff)? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. Do they point out how Christ has done everything required for your salvation and gives this gift freely – or do they attach strings to it, say that you yourself must add a bit of this, a bit of that? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. If they glorify and extol you rather than Christ, if they point to how wonderful you are, do not listen to them. We are simply this – sinners who have been redeemed and forgiven by a gracious and loving God, even Christ the Crucified who has risen and given us His own life by the power of His Word and Spirit.

And this is the focus of the Christian Church – it has been since those 3000 were baptized and returned to their homes and proclaimed Christ and Him Crucified. This is what shapes us today, as we, the Baptized in Christ’s Name, are gathered together by the Holy Spirit around the Word of God and shown Christ Jesus our Savior. May our eyes ever more be upon Christ Jesus, even to all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why the Term "Layman" is bad

You know, I don't think I like the term "Layman" or "lay" or "laity" any more. Why? Well, it used to just mean... the people. The folks. You had the pastor there was was to preach to the people - the laity. Just meant all those folks who didn't do the preaching or sacramental stuff - nothing more, nothing less.

Now the term "layman" almost has a... second tier status... not necessarily in the Church, but outside of the Church. It has the sense of "non-professional"... almost meaning "amateur" or "hobbyist". Are you a carpenter? Nah, I just do it on the side... I'm a lay carpenter.

I'm not trying to say that this is common usage (how many places use the word "lay" anyway) - but that this is sort of the connotation that the word has derived.

Indifferent. Amateur. Not really dedicated. Not "real".

And these connotations have nothing, nothing to do with how the non-clergy are to be viewed in the Church. Yet what happens? Well - what is your normal reaction when you feel marginalized by your title? You try to "move up the ladder" some how.

Being a pastor is not belonging to a "class" of Christian -- it's not like a Pastor is a major league Christian and the laity are just AAA... and maybe someday they might make it to the show.

You know what a Pastor is. A Pastor is just one of the congregation, the people, who has a specific calling, a specific vocation.

You know. A specific job.

I mean... is one a better Christian if one is a farmer, or a doctor, or a machinist? Then why in the world would we think being a pastor would make one a better or higher or more important Christian?

Maybe in part its because there is baggage with that term laity... baggage that has no business being there.

I really liked Prof. Weinrich's "BP" model -- the Church consists of Bishop and People. Nothing wrong with being people... and being the Bishop's just an office, nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Study What Gets Used Against You

Yesterday, I was in 1 Peter with a class for 2 hours. Today, it will be James for an hour (with yesterday spent in prep). This made me consider something.

It is a normal and natural response of human beings to seek to avoid sources that are used against them, even if those sources are ill-used or misquoted. This is just part of our sinful nature - take the path of least resistance.

Too often Lutherans have abandonned James and Peter. Why? People beat us over the head with James on works, and Rome talked on and on about Peter... so off to the side. Maybe not intentionally... but just... sort of out of focus.

Reading James again - it's a fantastic book that totally and repeatedly undercuts works righteousness. Seriously. Tells Christians not to be lazy jerks (in which case it often sounds like what Luther sounds like when he rants against his lazy, drunken Germans). 1 Peter - totally about hearing the Word of God and how that incorporates us into the Body of Christ... it's hupakuo all over the place. Wonderful - listen to the Word.

Kind of neat when the first Pope teaches us that our focus it to be upon listening to the Word. Doesn't say anything about the majestarium, or his own awesome sauce - the Word, the Word, the Word.

People abuse these Saints and their writings. Annoyance might lead us to ignore them -- but we ought to defend them, delight in their good theology, and rejoice at the riches of God's Word.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

easter 7 at Alva - unedited

I don't have my tinkerings, but here is the paper draft of my sermon for last Sunday at Alva on John 17:1-11

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
After three chapters of preaching, of teaching, our Lord concludes His evening in the Upper Room with the disciples by praying. These verses today are the beginning of what is known as Christ Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” – the prayer that He prays for His disciples, that He prays for us. And this prayer is wonderful as it encapsulates everything that is part of being in the Church Militant – the Church awaiting the return of her Lord, Christ Jesus.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.” The hour has come. When Christ leaves the Upper Room upon the completion of this prayer – it’s His passion. It’s the sweat and agony in Gethsemane, the mocking trial, and the Crucifixion. It’s all on after this. And yet, what does Christ say? Glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You. We don’t generally think of the Crucifixion as glorifying Christ, we don’t think of it as glorifying the Father. What is Jesus driving at, what point is He making? Namely this – I believe in One God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. The very first thing that we state about God is that He is our Creator – that God Almighty made the heavens and earth – that the Father spoke and the Word called into being all things, and the Spirit hovered over the face of the deep. Creation is a wondrous thing – the Heavens declare the glory of the Lord. And of all this creation, of all the vast heavens and the plants and the creatures – there at the pinnacle stood man. Man was the crowning glory of God’s creation. When you wanted to know how awesome, how wonderful God was – you beheld Adam, made in the image and likeness of God Himself. There, that is God’s Handiwork at its finest, His masterpiece.

And Adam falls. Sins. And creation groans in pain as it is trashed and tarnished and ruined. Adam, meant to be a living being… dies. As do all his children, his descendents. You and I. That glory is tarnished by sin and death. And so the Word of God comes down from heaven, and He becomes Man. He becomes Man in order to save and restore man. “Glorify Your Son that He may Glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.” And thus, to give eternal life, to restore God’s glory as shown in His creation – Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, He suffers, He dies, He rises again. All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. This is what Paul tells us – we have sinned and fall short of what we were made to be – and so Christ Jesus comes, He suffers in our plan, takes up our shame – and then He rises, and on Easter Sunday, there you see Him – Man alive, Man never to die again. Man restored. And what does this Risen Christ do? He gives eternal life to the Children of God, those whom God has given faith and life through the proclamation of the Word of God, through the proclamation of Christ Jesus that we ever more cling to and trust. And God is Glorified as His creation, as you and I are restored to life everlasting because of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. This is where our Lord’s focus is here.

“And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Again – note the focus here on faith, not works. How do we have eternal life? Is it because of the mighty works we do, is it because we jump through a bunch of hoops. Nope. As John says in chapter 20 – “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” The Word is proclaimed from generation to generation, all so that we might be given faith, that we might know who God is, know who Christ Jesus is – that we might know the 1 True God who created and redeems the world.

I hate to sound like a broken record. I hate to keep harping on things week in and week out – but with these texts, with this section of John – we really need to. Our Lord continually sets up a contrast between the Church and the world. You have those who are Christ’s own and tend to the Word, hold it always before their eyes, and the world out there, the unbelievers who ignore the Word of God, who abuse the Word, and who end up ignoring Christ. Do not follow the ways of the world – do not give into seductive false preaching and promises. Rather, be focused upon Christ and Him alone. “I have manifested your Name to the people whom you gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your Word.” Do you hear that contrast – we are called out of the world, to be separate and distinct from it. The world out there cares for money, wealth, power, privilege, fame, respect. The world out there cares for the self, always asks the question, “what am I going to get out of it, what’s in it for me. How do I make things be the way I want them to be?” That is not who you are. Christ Jesus has manifest the Name of God to His people – He has put His name upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism, called out of darkness into the His marvelous light. He has put His Word upon you, and He has kept His Word before your eyes, so that you might recognize sinful temptations in your own life and beat them down, that you might struggle against temptation. He has kept His Word before your eyes so that when you do sin, you don’t try to justify and explain it away, you don’t try to make excuses – you confess it, you say that you are by nature sinful and unclean, and that you have sinned in thought, word, and deed. And that same Christ Jesus in His Word shows you Himself, Manifests Himself – comes to you, even gives you His Body and Blood in His Supper, all so that you receive from Him the life and salvation which He has won for you. You belong to God, and your life revolves around the things of God. The world would wrest your eyes off of Christ – but Christ has pulled out away from the things of this fallen, temporary life, and He gives you the things of life everlasting in His Word.

“All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.” You are connected to Christ Jesus by the power of the Word, you share in all that is His, and as such, you are connected to God. And what does this do? It glorifies God. Do you want to give glory to God, do you want God to be glorified in your life? Do you know how that is done? By receiving the forgiveness of your sins. By living as one who is forgiven. That is how Christ Jesus is glorified in you – when you bear witness to His forgiveness and life and love. When you confess your sins, when you reject the self-aggrandizing attitudes of the world and instead rely solely and simply upon Christ Jesus for forgiveness, for life, for strength – then Christ is glorified in you.

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You.” Christ’s days, His time of toil in the fallen world are fulfilled. He has gone to the Cross, He has risen, He has ascended – and He will come again. But until then you and I, for the days of our lives, are left here to struggle in the world, to be here in this fallen place. And what you must remember is that the world will always try to pull your eyes off of Christ Jesus and His cross. That false teachers will cry out Lord, Lord, but then not proclaim Christ Jesus and Him crucified… and to them the Lord will say, “Depart from Me, I do not know you.” The world and false preachers and Satan and sin and death will do all they can to make you forget who you are – You are a child of God, forgiven and won by Christ Jesus, and kept in the faith by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Word and through the Sacraments. The world will always fight against this – the world will send mock the Word, the false preachers will deny that Baptism really does anything, say that the Lord’s Supper is just bread and wine and ignore our Lord’s own Words in which He says, “This is My Body, This cup is the New Testament in My Blood.” All to rest you away from God.

Christ Jesus does not want this, and so He prays for you. “Holy Father, keep them in Your Name, which you have given Me, that they may be one, even as we are One.” Christ Jesus prays for you, that you be kept in your baptismal grace and faith, that you might be kept in this simple truth that He has done all things for you, so that you, even though you are a poor miserable sinner and so shall remain all the days of your life here on earth, you are forgiven for the sake of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus your Lord, and that He gives you this forgiveness and life in His Word. God is active in His Word – the Father brings you to Himself whenever the Spirit uses the Word of God to focus you upon Christ, whenever the sacraments which Christ Himself instituted and gave to us are done in His Name. This is how you are kept in God’s Name, the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, even unto life everlasting. Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia).

James - Practical Theology

In reading through James again in preparation for the 1 hour study there on this Thursday, I am finding it very enjoyable, and I think I understand why it can cause so much confusion.

James is not trying to teach "doctrine" or teach "the faith". Rather, he's simply pointing out practical, rubber-meeting-road things about the Christian life. For example, James 1:13-15: [13] Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. [14] But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. [15] Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

This is utterly practical advice. Don't blame your temptations on God. (You mean I don't get to say that God made me this way?). Rather this - know that as one called to faith, your life will be one where you struggle against your own desires. Your prayer will always have to be "Thy will be done," for your own will is sinful and corrupt, and your own desires will tempt you.

Seriously - a wonderful insight that we can neglect. Not everything tempts people in the same ways -- we each have our own set of desires -- and that shapes how we are tempted. There are things that tempt me that don't really seem all that tempting to you and vice versa -- doesn't make one of us better or worse -- that's just the way it is. The key is that we are called to turn away from these desires, for we know that they lead to sin and death.

Very humble, practical advice.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A "Terrible" Secret

I will now share a terrible secret.

It was just over 20 years ago... on May 5th, I was confirmed, and the pastor put his hand on my head and read...


um. Something from the Psalms.


I don't quite remember the verse. I remember thinking, "Really? That? Why in the world would you pick that for me?" I remember thinking, as I considered the rest of my class of 65, that this fellow really didn't know me that well, even though I was the one who kept pointing out errors in his class -- like when our material (Augsburg Fortress) asserted that we could tell the points where "Genesis changes authors"... or when I brought the Good News bibles they used up, pointed at there butchered rendition of John 1:1 where it says that the Word was *like* God. Actually opened to the verse, pointed at it, and said, "Isn't that heresy?"

I was a stubborn, adamant, theological stick in the mud. And there's just this generic verse that... well, I don't even know who it would apply to.

So - what is my confirmation verse? Beats the pants off of me.

Does this disturb me?


Actually, it amuses me. The other memory from that day is this: when I communed for the first time, they had two running lines - you went one way for individual cup and then up the stairs to get the Common cup. I was 2nd in line - and I went to the Common Cup. Third in line was Leah Souder... and after I return to my seat, she sits down and says, "Thank you so much for getting the common cup - I didn't want to be the only one."

And I was glad I wasn't the only one either.

So, I guess I don't have the romantic, idealized Confirmation story. There was no precious moment to treasure, no fond, heart warming memories. Just this. In the Church there are indifferent pastors and all sorts of social pressures that try to make us conform with the trends of the world.

That's actually a profound lesson for anyone to learn. Even almost makes having no clue what my confirmation verse is sort of worth it. Maybe it's not that terrible of a secret.

P.S. The assistant pastor in his first year there was Brian Saunders, who had lived in the same apartment complex with me. He was a good pastor. He taught me things that I still remember. He's now the Iowa East DP... I ran into him at the Sem on call night... he asked if I was one of the guys called to his district -- no, just one of the guys you confirmed back in the day at Holy Cross in 1991.

P.S.S. I don't remember any of the verses from my Ordination either... or really what the sermon at my wedding was about (well, Jesus - Pastor Nehrenz is a good preacher). And that's okay.

Legalism, Antinomianism, and Freedom

Legalism, Antinomianism, and Christian Freedom all derive from how one sees one's own sin.

Legalism sees ones sin along these lines. Sin X is a sore temptation for me. If I even approach it, say by doing W, I'm going to fall into X. Therefore, W shouldn't be done, and more over, none of y'all should do W either.

Antinomianism sees ones own sin along these lines. Sin X is appealing to me. I mean, really, sin X isn't as bad as that other sin - Sin Y^2. Therefore, come on, really, is sin X really sin, or is that just an outmoded opinion. Let's not even call X sin, that's not really accurate.

Christian Freedom sees one sin along these lines. Sin X is a sore temptation for me. It is forgiven, but when I give into sin X, I harm my neighbor. Even W can lead me to sin X, so for the sake of my neighbor, I will not do W. If my neighbor can handle W... so be it, let him do it. But as for me, out of love for the neighbor, I myself will avoid W.

See, that's the key - I have no problem with adding things that go beyond Scripture as a matter of self-discipline, of fencing the self from sin. Or those under your specific authority (like a father setting limits for a kid). The problem becomes when you either deny a Scriptural Sin being sin, or setting limits on people you don't have to set limits on -- and no, as a Pastor, you do not have the right to set behavioral limits on your members outside the context of the service. You might advise, but you are not their lord.

But really, the bigger problem isn't legalism or antinomianism today. It's this:

Sin? What's that?

God have mercy on us all.

The Truth Without Anger - Freedom Used Responsibly

I'm a Cubs fan. My Cubbies stink. Carlos Zambrano, a veteran "leader" on the team (and leader is in quotes because... I don't know if they really have any leaders) called out his teammates calling their play embarrassing. And every word he said was accurate.

Here's the problem. Zambrano has a history with anger issues. And so, people will ignore what he says and blame him.

He's not a good teammate. He's throwing people under the bus. This might have meant something if someone else said it, but since Zambrano said it, eh, he's just a nut job and get rid of him.


We often hear to speak the truth in love. For myself, I tend to like thinking in terms of speaking the truth without anger. Why? Because when you demonstrate anger, one of two things will happen:

1. It will serve as cold water in the face, waking people up.
2. It will provide people an excuse to ignore what you say.

Does this mean that I think that a Christian cannot show anger? No. Not at all. In fact, an excellent examination of "anger" from a biblical point of view is here:

This is more a statement on myself. I rarely trust myself to keep anger from becoming rage. I can much more safely, for myself, start speaking calmly and add a dash of cold-water-to-the-face anger inflections when needed.

+ + + + + + + + + + +

What this drives to is something that I think is often missing from discussions on behavior. All too often we debate whether or not one "can" do something rather than whether or not someone "should" do something. Consider the following verses:

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." - Galatians 5:13

""All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up." - 1 Corinthians 10:23

"Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger," - Ephesians 4:26

The question should not be whether or not I *can* get angry, but whether or not I should - whether I should let that anger show forth. For me, Eric Brown, with my own strengths and weaknesses, with my own issues... the answer is most of the time going to be no. Because when I become angry, I have a hard time stopping. I can have a beer - no problem stopping at 1 or 2 beers for me... for others, well, they can't stop that. Therefore, they probably shouldn't have one.

Those are just the breaks in life.

And I know this makes things... difficult. It makes things difficult because those blanket statements that apply to everyone... well, we have to admit that sometimes they don't apply to everyone. Not everyone has the temptations which I have, so not everyone needs to fence and control themselves in the same way I do. Not everyone has my weaknesses, not everyone has my strengths. When I teach, when I advise them... I can't do it on the basis of my own set up, but their own.

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." - 1 Corinthians 10:13 Everything is "common" -- even if what tempts someone else is unappealing to me, I can at least understand it enough to know how temptation works... even if I have very little draw to that particular thing.

This is why the Scriptures continually teach not a rote set of rules, but freedom, freedom used wisely and not as an occasion for sin. This can be applied across the board - examine yourself, consider your actions -- if you do x, will it lead to sin. If so, flee from x, even if someone else can do it.

This is not anti-nomianism - it is knowing that the Law has been fulfilled in Christ, and rather exercising Self-Control, which is a fruit of the Spirit.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ascension Sermon @ Lahoma

Ascension (Observed) June 5th, 2011 – Luke 24:44-52

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
In the Creed, we confess that Christ has not only risen, but that He has ascended, and is at this moment seated at the right hand of the Father, that He is exercising His divine power on our behalf. This past Thursday was ascension day, 40 days after Easter. This morning, we will look at our Lord’s Ascension, and in particular what Words He speaks to the Disciples in the Gospel of Luke just before He ascends, and we will see how He shapes His Church on earth until He returns again on the last day in Glory. Let us dive in.

Then He said to them, “These are My Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. So, here we are today, almost 2000 years after the Ascension, and I want you to notice, dear friends, that what we end up doing here is exactly the same as what Christ Jesus our Lord and the disciples were doing right in our text. Our eyes are focused upon the Scriptures, and by the Holy Spirit, the Helper, God opens our eyes to understand them, to see Christ Jesus and His Gospel. We don’t simply look to the Scriptures for rules or advice, we there behold Christ Jesus our Lord. We are focused upon and shown Christ in God’s Word – be it the Word of the Old Testament which points forward to Christ, which declares what the Christ would do – or be it the Word of the New Testament, which declares what Christ has done. Whether the text is point to what the coming Messiah would do or whether it declares what Christ Jesus has done, what our Lord says is true – Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. There it is – the point, the entirety of Scripture summed up. What is the point of God’s Word? What is the point of our time spent together in that Word, be it here in worship, or be it in study, be it at home in private devotions? That Christ Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead – and because of this, we have forgiveness.

This is what Christ gives the Apostles – this is what He tells them to preach and write as He sends them out into all the world. So, isn’t this what we proclaim even unto this day? You see dear friends, the Apostles went out and preached, they did come down off the mountain, they stopped staring at the sky, and Christ and Him Crucified was preached throughout the world. Indeed, because Christ and Him Crucified was preached, this congregation came into being, formed by people who wanted to see that Christ and Him Crucified would be rightly preached in Lahoma. And this is and shall remain our focus here in this place.

But Satan would have your focus be anywhere but upon Christ and what He has done for you, and so with guile and wickedness he tries to distract you. He has even twisted many who claim to be Christian – listen with care to what you hear people say about “God” or “Christianity” out there in the world – because so often the discussion will be about works or earthly power and might or coming up with a 7 step plan for better whatever. Compare this with what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians – For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jew and Gentile, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. You are around, you see things. What does the world desire more, what does the typical American want – to hear of forgiveness and the mysteries of God, or rather something else? Maybe a massive sign – like a miraculous, head smacking faith healing or a giant and loud rapture full of thunder and lightening? Maybe something wise perhaps– a better way to live, good advice and wisdom for living here on earth, just like the Gentiles of old wanted? The temptation, dear friends, is for the Church to stop preaching Christ and Him Crucified and rather to supply the earthly wisdom the world wants. To shift our focus away from Christ and on to our own human wants and desires. To forget that Christ has ascended to Heaven, to the Father, to where He will bring us, and rather to end up focusing just on what we can get in the here and now. Many Churches have fallen, and we need to take heed lest we fall, lest we forget what our focus is to be here. We are to be in the Word and focused upon He whom the Word proclaims, even Christ Jesus our Lord.

And Jesus even tells us how He is to be preached and proclaimed. And that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in My Name to all nations. So, let us do that again this morning. Is repentance a part of your life, dear friends? For you, as an individual, is repentance a part of your life? Do you pause, do you think where you have erred, where you have sinned, and do you strive to turn away from that sin, to repent of that sin? Is repentance a part of your life?

Repentance isn’t popular. Well, actually, it is if we think the preacher is telling other people to repent. It’s quite popular if the preacher rails on the person next to us, or the people out there. But the message that each one of us needs to take a good hard look at our own lives, needs to see where we sin and beat that down. Daily. Continually. None of us really likes that. We don’t want to deal with sin – don’t tell me I have to struggle against sin – rather just give me a few easy, simple things to do that prove that I’m a good person. Thing is – scripture says that we are sinful, sinners through and through, sinners in need of forgiveness. Scripture says that we are to turn away from our sin. Luther says that Baptism should lead to daily contrition and repentance – more thought should be given to your struggle against the sins and temptations that hound you other than just breezing through the general confession at the beginning of service. Our lives are to be ones of repentance.

And there is a reason for this. God isn’t just some meanie, He doesn’t like to brow beat you over the head – rather He wants to give you forgiveness, He wants you to cherish your forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are to be preached in the Name of Christ. We are people who need forgiveness, forgiveness is the cause and the source and the content of faith. What happens if we ignore repentance? We stop wanting forgiveness, and if we stop wanting forgiveness – faith dies. Think about it – in your own life, think on the times when you have been the most smug, the most confident in how good you were and in your own works – the times when your own sin was something that you never thought about. Did you look to Christ Jesus? Did you ponder the wonders of the Cross, that God Almighty would die to give you life? The old Lutheran hymn proclaims “faith clings to Jesus Christ alone” – and when you were so sure that you were a good person, were you clinging to Christ, or were your hands busy patting yourself on the back?

This is why there is the need for repentance – for when we do not see our sin we see no need for a Savior. When we do not see our sin, we see no need for the Cross. Give us other things, God – just make things easy here – after all, I’m a good person, don’t I deserve it? We lie to ourselves and lie to God. Our focus is shifted away from Christ, and we forget who we are. We see no need for Church. Think on what we teach here. Although you are a sinful being, God gives you forgiveness and life and salvation here in His Word. He gives you His Body and Blood for the remission of your sin. God is active for you here. Would there be anything that we would see as more important? And yet, what is the temptation that arises? To push Christ and His forgiveness to the side, to treat it as something that we don’t need.

That is why Christ and Him Crucified is preached. We see our need for a Savior, and then our Savior is proclaimed to us. This is the pattern, this is what we have done as the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Why? Why the continual blessing? Why the continual thanksgiving? Because their eyes were focused on Christ and not only what He has done in the past, but what He continues to do, what He continued to give to them each day in His Word and Sacraments.

We must not think, as some Churches teach, that with the Ascension our Lord leaves us behind. He has said that He is with us until the end of the age. And He is. He is present in His Word. He is present in His Supper. He has bound Himself to you at your Baptism. The reality of the Christian faith is that God Himself is present. He wants this truth preached – but we are to remember another thing – and this is the particular joy of the Ascension. Christ desires that He be preached so that we know that He is with us – that He gives us forgiveness and salvation – that He is indeed by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and spirit. That is true. That is the truest thing in your life. Christ is with you – and you are with Christ. As Christ has ascended, as Christ has risen to heaven – where will you be, O Christian, you who are forgiven and attached to Him? You will be where He is. The fact that God is here for you now on earth in His Word and Sacraments is the proof that God desires you to be with Him for all eternity. And God desires that nothing distract you from this truth. Throughout our days on earth our eyes are pulled away from the earthly, the mundane, the nice worldly advice, and rather placed upon Christ Jesus who has died, risen, and ascended – so that we might be sure of our salvation, that we might be sure of our eternal home.

This is what we see Christ Jesus doing in our Gospel. He anchors the Church, He ties the Church to His Word, so that we might always know His forgiveness and be tied to Him – so that for eternity we might be with Him as well. This is why the disciples departed in joy, this is the same joy which we proclaim to this day as well. Christ has ascended to the Father, and so too shall you, for Christ has claimed you as His own and given you His forgiveness. Cling to Him, rejoice in His forgiveness, and know that as He is in Heaven so shall you be as well. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed – Alleluia.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sola Scriptura and Solus Christus

"Then He said to them, 'These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me int he Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, 'Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'"

You do realize what it is that I am actually demanding when I demand the Scriptures alone? You realize why I want everything to be from the Word?

Because the Word always points to Christ.

When you go off on your creative rant that doesn't involve the Word... it doesn't involve Christ. It doesn't involve repentance and forgiveness in His Name.

The Scriptures always testify to that.

The Scriptures always point to Christ Jesus.

Does your moral system?
Does your new plan for order and structure?
Do your new rules?
Does your "natural" law?

Are you trying to get people to repent, or to just annoy you less? Or to make the same decisions you do so you feel better about the choices you've made? Or to play nicely so they can leave you alone?

Sola Scriptura always leads to Solus Christus.

And whenever the Scriptures are abandoned, to whatever extent they are - whether it is massive and sweeping and coarse, or just the subtle shifting of focus with the best of intentions, as the Scriptures are abandoned, so is Christ.

He is the Word, the Word incarnate, the Word made flesh that dwells among us.

Why would you want to look somewhere other than the Word? What good could you ever hope to find?

Everything is about Christ -- and if it is not, then let it fall away. Only the Son remains forever, the slave and the things of slavery must depart.

Show me the Scriptures. Show me Christ Jesus for me.

Kuddos to "Let Us Pray"

A petition from the Let Us Pray prayers for Ascension:

Keep us, O Lord, from idle speculation and wonder; direct us to Your Word, where You continue to make Yourself known to us, and lead us to Your Sacraments, where You continue to deliver the gifts and grace of Your kingdom to us;

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Another Luther Gem

This is what Luther writes on the Ascension Gospel from Luke

(From a sermon on our Gospel Lesson) A Christian is at once a sinner and a saint; he is wicked and pious at the same time. For so far as our persons are concerned, we are in sins and are sinners in our own name. But Christ brings us another name, in which there is the forgiveness of sins, that for His sake sins are remitted and pardoned. So both statements are true: There are sins, for the old Adam is not entirely dead as yet; yet the sins are not there. The reason is this: For Christ’s sake God does not want to see them I have my eyes on them. I feel and see them well enough. But there is Christ, commanding that I should repent, that is, confess myself a sinner and believe the forgiveness of sins in His name. For repentance, remorse, and knowledge of sin, though necessary, is not enough; faith in the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ must be added. But where there is such a faith, God no longer sees any sins; for then you stand before God, not in your name but in Christ’s Name. He adorns you with grace and righteousness, although in your own person you are a poor sinner, full of weakness and unbelief.

At its heart, all forms of legalism deny this. They deny this and think that with enough effort, enough sweat, enough good preaching of the Law that the Christian will be in this life just a Saint.

And so the Law is preached in a deformed way. It is preached so that it is obtainable - its teeth are ripped of it to where it is not a statement about who you *are* but merely about what you *do*. And even that *do* is watered down or twisted into just whatever the given preacher has as his personal bugaboo.

Christian preaching does not do this. The Christian preaching of the Law reveals sin - shows that the person is a sinner. Then the Gospel is proclaimed.

Will people be the better for this? Of course - how could they not, the Gospel gives life. But even a "better" sinner now is and remains a sinner. Even the better sinner is still lost and condemned if left to their own devices. We only stand before God in the Name of Christ the Crucified.

Everything else is like tinfoil. Shiny, but weak, cheap, and easily torn and broken.

Thoughts on Filling a Vacancy

So, I have been filling a vacancy 60+ miles away.

They have a Seminarian coming - there are only 4 more services for me to do there.

Interestingly enough, they are on the 3 years series, and I am on the 1 year here. So, what do I do? I write two sermons, one for home and one for there. Is this much more work - yes. But it's been good for a very simple reason.

So there I will sit, normally on Wednesday mornings, writing out my draft for that congregation up there, and I understand that I am just a placeholder - just holding down the fort for a few weeks until some young fella from the Sem shows up. 7 weeks total. 7 sermons. And it's all through the Easter Season so far - the time when the readings have Christ preparing us for life in the New Testament Church.

So here I am, knowing that I have as part of my duty preparing this congregation for their new pastor - how they are to view him, what they are to expect... not things of personality, not this or that - but they are to hear someone who preaches the Gospel.

And by that I really mean... Gospel.

Not the plans for a better life.

Not his secret seven steps for a better you.

Not the mysteries of the natural law -- you know, the things that God didn't clearly say in the bible but He obviously wants you to do it, since people who don't do this sacred bull of mine annoy me (so clearly it violates God's Law).

Not any stretch of legalism or things like that.

Just the truth that they are sinners in a sinful world - yet Christ has conquered over sin and the world, and thus, to survive in this life, we need constantly to receive that love and mercy and forgiveness.

Really. That's it.

That is what we need. We need to see the impacts of sin, our own and the world's sin, and then we need to see Christ Jesus crucified.

This is what Jesus tells us over and over.

And as I'm writing for this vacancy congregation - as I know my time there is limited... the little David Scaer on my shoulder constantly says, "Get to the point!" And of course, as David Scaer would tell you, the point is Christ and Him Crucified.

As pastors, we know that this is the point. But here is the problem. Familiarity breeds contempt.

We see the flaws that people in our congregation have, and they can annoy us, and so instead of proclaiming Christ (with the effect that His love and Mercy flows onto and through people... you know, so *He* does the work), we get tempted to try to fix them ourselves, to give them what for.

Because we just know that there's plenty of time for some Gospel later... but what they "need" now is a good dose of the law....

Don't we realize that this is the biggest danger any of us face? To get basically bored of the Gospel? To doubt it's effectiveness and instead cling to the Law? To let our own personal wants, desires, and bugaboos shape our preaching?

We are like those who abandon our first love of the Gospel, and our works dry up. We might hate the really bad folks... but we're still not what we should be.

Examine yourselves, o preachers! Don't just assume that you are preaching the Gospel - that you are preaching Christ. Look at your sermons -- is there more talk of what Christ does for your people, or of what your people ought to be doing? Is the cross just a throwaway line or two in the sermon, or is the point of your preaching taking the Cross and saying, "This is why this is, this is what this is"?

Filling this vacancy has reminded me of a simply truth. As I stepped up there I knew that I didn't need to "fix" that congregation - that I was just a place holder up there, simply pointing to Christ.

I'll have 7 weeks up there. I'm finishing up my 7th year here... but you know what? It still isn't my job to "fix" my congregation. I am still just a placeholder, and I am still here simply to be pointing to Christ.

God keep me from doing anything other but pointing to Christ Jesus at my own parish, and by my "works" bringing it all to utter destruction.